Friday, August 17, 2007


"The experience of making a movie is better and more important than the film itself."
- JOHN HUSTON (Director/Screenwriter of The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen; Director/ Producer of the Asphalt Jungle; Director/Producer/Screenwriter of Moby Dick)

It is generally accepted that films are the products of the director's effort to unify the various components of film into something that bears his signature. However, many more people are involved during the production phase of manufacturing a motion picture than just the director.

The director of the photography (the individual who creates the appropriate mood, atmosphere, and visual style of each shot), one of the most important positions in the filming hierarchy, is involved with the project a while before the actual start of production. He is usually consulted by the producer and director about a variety of technical details, including the choice of film stock and laboratory.

Color film stock is used in almost every mainstream movie nowadays, but color cinematography involves problems of economical, technical, and aesthetic nature. Color film is nearly two times as expensive as black and white stock, and so is the cost of development and printing. Also, color photography of exteriors is prone to variations in the intensity and tone of natural light during different hours of the day and during periods of sunshine and cloudiness. This limits the number of days or hours of the day that consistent color photography can be obtained. Even the slightest variation in color might present a problem of "matching" when two or more shots, taken at different times, are spliced in editing.

Whether the scene takes place on location (any area away from the studio that is selected for shooting) or in a sound stage (the soundproof building that's used for constructing sets for studio projects) can have a large effect on the filming process. Location filming presents problems such as the provision of food and shelter for performers and crew, and the use of power generators and other specialized equipment. On the up side, location filming gives authenticity to a picture, especially when a great deal of outdoor shooting is required.

And to insure authenticity within the actual story of the film, the director consults with the technical advisor who is hired for his expertise in a particular field to explain whether or not the movie being filmed portrays the particular events or situation accurately.

After observing the proposed locations for shooting, the director of photography considers their suitability and decides the type and number of cameras and lighting equipment that will be required for shooting. The art director and set decorator consult with him about the placement of lighting units and camera riggings in every set. Once shooting begins, the director of photography is second in importance only to the director.

Depending on the type of movie being filmed, the Second-Unit Director may also be of much importance. This is an individual whose main talent involves staging of large-scale action sequences which often deal with complex special effects and the participation of many extras, animals, et cetera.

A breakdown script, or just "breakdown," is written before any filming has begun so that everyone comes to the set prepared and no time is wasted. The breakdown is a very detailed list of everything required for the shooting of a film, organized scene by scene and day by day. Separate elements of the shooting script are rearranged and grouped in a sequence that is most convenient for shooting and therefore more beneficial to the budget. The usual categories are exteriors and interiors, night or day shots, and sound or silent sequences (nowadays a silent sequence is usually one that will have music mixed in the soundtrack, muting any other sound). All the shots to be filmed on one location are grouped together, as are sequences that require particular props, costumes, special lighting or sound recording equipment, or the presence of extras or other lesser-important members of the cast. The breakdown is necessary because it helps the director plan his shooting schedule and prevents unforeseen omissions or needless duplications of shots. The person who is responsible for the breakdown script is the assistant director.

The assistant director (or "A.D.") is hired to aid the head director so that the he can better work on the creative aspects of the film. The assistant director assumes responsibility for the routine responsibilities, such as summoning the actors, crew, and logistical support to the correct place at the right time (or the "call"). It is also the duty of the A.D. to keep the production on schedule and to maintain order on the set (this is hopefully accomplished by his yelling of "Quiet on the Set!"). The assistant director tells the camera operator to "roll," or to begin filming. He is also responsible for any scenes that involve large crowds. The assistant director even has assistants of his own, which are known as "seconds."

Another person who must pay attention to the breakdown, the shooting schedule (the advance schedule for work assignments and equipment required for a filming session), and the shots being filmed is the script supervisor. Because of how long it takes to shoot one scene, and the convenience of shooting scenes out of sequence, the script supervisor's function is vital. This person's job is to scribble down very specific notes during the filming of every scene so that he/she can look back at the notes during a later scene to make sure all of the details are correct. For instance, the script supervisor would make sure that if a character's hair was neatly combed in one scene, it would not be disheveled in the next scene. The script supervisor would also make sure that the character's wardrobe doesn't change with every scene, or a shirt is buttoned all the way one moment and then unbuttoned the next. This person even keeps track of details as obscure as which hand a character was holding a cigarette in. These minor points are easily noticed if they aren't right and can be very distracting to the audience.

Working closely together, the director and the director of photography determine the camera angles, setup, and movement for every shot. The latter then chooses the lens and filter that will best achieve the former's concept of the shot, determines the exposure, and sets up the lights to attain the particular effect desired. At this point, the camera operator takes over.

The director of photography does not physically operate the camera. The camera operator, or "second cameraman," takes care of that task. The camera operator follows instructions from the director of photography and gets approval from the director by accomplishing smooth camera movement and producing satisfactory pictorial images. The camera crew also includes an assistant cameraman, or the "focus puller," and the second assistant cameraman.

The job of the focus puller is to adjust the lens in follow focus situations. Before shooting begins, the focus puller measures and marks the distance between the lens and significant points in a traveling shot, so that a smooth follow focus can be attained during the take.

The main responsibility of the second assistant cameraman, or "loader," is the clapper board. The clapper board, which is called the clap board for short, is a hand-held chalkboard that is used to present important shot information for the film (movie title, director's name, take number, et cetera). The clapper board, whether electronic or slate, is shot before each take so that when the wooden clapstick that is hinged to the top of the board is snapped shut, there is a sound and image that can later be utilized to synchronize the sound and film tracks. Photographing the clap board also separates all of the takes with a quickly recognized image so that it is easier to go back through the footage and find the best shots to use.

The director of photography joins the director in viewing the dailies, or rushes, to evaluate the earlier work and make any necessary changes for future filming. At the conclusion of production, the director of photography supervises the grading of the first print in the lab to assure that the preferred degree of brightness and the right color tone are achieved for the images that the public will eventually see on the screen.

In the early days of cinema, the camera work was managed by one man who not only operated the camera, but often also developed and printed the film in the laboratory. But as the art of film progressed and grew in complexity, the duties of the cameraman became more strictly defined and his contributions to the quality of a film more important. Many of the technical innovations credited to director D.W. Griffith (Intolerance) actually originated with his cameraman, Billy Bitzer (The Birth of a Nation), or came about as a result of the close creative partnership between the two men.

The director has always been the most important worker on the set, but some of the most memorable sequences in movie history have been staged by second-unit directors, such as the chariot races in both versions of Ben-Hur and the charge in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936).

For many years, color was used mostly as a gimmick and few attempts were made to explore its aesthetic advantages. Early colors were usually loud and gaudy, emphasizing the novelty of the process over black and white rather than its uniqueness. But gradually, as the technical problems were fixed, attention shifted to the artistic use of color.

Courtesy of


Edit Suite 8 said...

working hard as always. Thanks man. any more news on that suicide documentary you posted a while back?

roentarre said...

Your article makes me feel work harder! It seems the words are true, another profession is like crossing another mountain...


Paper Fan Club said...

Out of curiosity, did you watch "On the Lot" this season? i thought it was a great concept and a potential big break for film makers.

NeoAuteur said...

Reading this article makes me realized how much of an art film-making is.